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Grid-Tied Solar with Lithium Battery Backup

Energy Independence in East Jewett, New York

George Harvey

We do not see grid-tied solar systems with battery backup very often, and so they seem especially interesting when we do. High Peaks Solar, an installer based in Wynantskill, New York, brought one to our attention. It is a project that is just being finished in East Jewett, NY.

Rural home with twenty-six 325-watt solar panels. Photo courtesy of Joe Pepe.

East Jewett is part of the town of Jewett, which lies in Greene County and has a total population of almost 950. It is on the edge of the Catskills, near the Hudson River Valley, about 140 miles north of New York City. The area is quite rural and is referred to as “ungentrified.”

Joseph Pepe is an architect, licensed to practice in New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. He had done some very large projects in the past, but as he nears retirement, he is working on sustainable homes and restorations. He wanted his own home to be able to withstand extended power outages comfortably.

Achieving this goal was complicated by the fact that the house is all-electric. It has electric baseboard heat, well pump, hot water, cooking, and dryer, each of which can draw a lot of power. The result is that a battery system would have to be very large to supply the potential top load regularly without shortening its life expectancy, or the system itself would have to be altered somewhat.

Pepe wanted to be able to fall back on a battery for grid failures. He knew that outages could be longer in the future, as climate change brings more intense weather conditions, and he wanted a system that could be capable of being powered for independent operation for long periods. He also wanted a system that was large enough to supply energy for an electric vehicle, which he would like to buy at some point.

This is being achieved by combining different energy sources. The house has a roof that faces south and is well positioned for a solar system large enough to supply it with sufficient power for typical conditions. This would have to be combined with a sufficiently large storage system. The system would be grid-tied for the sake of reducing stress on the battery. And it would be backed up with a combination of propane and wood for heat to cover the needs of extended outages. The propane also supplies water heating.

Two years ago, Pepe started discussions with Kevin Bailey of High Peaks Solar. They went well beyond solar power to cover all the energy needs for the home. The questions they considered included what would happen normally, when the grid tie was operational, as well as what to do about outages of any type and duration.

The system was also designed with due consideration for changes in how utilities supply power, which might come in the future. For example, what changes would be best if the local utility goes into time-of-use service? The system should be able to draw power when the price is low, but not when the price is high, an advantage for both utility and customer.

In the end, High Peaks put in twenty-six Canadian Solar 325-watt panels. The inverter is from SMA. A sonnen battery system with five Sony batteries, each of 2.5 kilowatt-hours provides for backup. “The system is rapid-shutdown compliant, to the latest code standard,” Bailey told us.

Pepe is already delighted with the system, which is nearly finished. As a professional, he seems to be especially happy with the approach to combining energy sources. “High Peak Solar did a great job as integrators,” he said. But clearly, knowing that his home can be comfortable even when a big storm hits provides wonderful peace of mind.

High Peaks Solar’s website is

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